... these Martello towers were all constructed for the purpose of being defended by two guns,
but by some strange blunder they could only carry one …
Defence of the Realm: Martello Towers
The Martello towers which lined the south coast of England in the early years of the nineteenth century were inspired by the defences at Mortella in Corsica. They were built from early 1805 to 1812 when there was a fear of invasion by Napoleon’s forces. These engraving, drawn by JMW Turner, shows several towers in the view from Bexhill in Sussex towards Pevensey Bay.
According to Cobbett’s Parliamentary Debates for 14 March 1810, recognising the urgency of the threat of war at the time, General Twiss was of the opinion that it was impossible to build them but by contract.
'A Mr Hobson, who had built the London docks with great ability, was named as a person fit to conduct the undertaking. Mr Hobson, however would not undertake to do them, as the uncertainty of the expense was such that he thought no man could in justice to his family enter into such a contract.'
He was offered a percentage for superintending the work but only accepted the contract when Mr Pole called upon him as an Englishman to aid his country in her extremity. He subcontracted the work which proved to be extremely lucrative to John Smith, the builder of the towers between Bexhill and Eastbourne, said to have made a profit of £20 000, and Edward Hodges the descendants of whom said he also made a fortune.
William Cobbett refers to the extravagance in his Rural Rides some twenty years later:
All along the coast there are works of some sort or other; incessant sinks of money; walls of immense dimensions; masses of stone brought and put into piles. Then you see some of the walls and buildings falling down; some that have never been finished.
Here has been the squandering! Here has been the pauper-making work! Here we see some of these causes that are now sending some farmers to the workhouse and driving others to flee the country or to cut their throats!
Also in the debate about additional expenditure by the army in Cobbett’s Parliamentary Debates for 14 March 1810 –
Mr Wardle said that these Martello towers were all constructed for the purpose of being defended by two guns, but by some strange blunder they could only carry one …
Mr Parnell was not prepared to vote for the estimates, because he thought them in many instances most extravagant. Another objection he had to doing it was, that when he looked at the House (which was very thin indeed) he could not think that so large a sum of 4000000l. of the people’s money should be voted away by so few of their representatives, and with so little investigation.
Although there are still Martello Towers along the coast those recorded by Turner near Bexhill no longer exist.
Tower 44 East Sussex Bexhill Lost to sea
Tower 45 East Sussex Bexhill Demolished
Tower 46 East Sussex Bexhill Demolished
Tower 47 East Sussex Bexhill Washed away to sea
Tower 48 East Sussex Bexhill Demolished
Tower 49 East Sussex Bexhill Destroyed